Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Above is an interesting plane that is on the mantel at my grandparent's house, and I've been paying closer and closer attention to it over the last few years as I've been getting deeper into woodworking. This Christmas while we were there, I pulled it apart and took some detail photographs. One interesting detail of the construction that I noticed this time around is the dovetailed piece that forms the front of the mouth. The curved sole leads me to believe that this is probably for the inside of barrels or some other concave surface. The rather small mouth opening indicates that it is for taking fine shavings. Because of the age of the wood, it's difficult to determine what species the plane is made from, but I think the mouth could be oak or ash. The main body almost seems like some sort of soft wood based on the grain. I have some pictures of the interior of the mouth/blade holding area as well as the maker's mark that I might post up later. It's pretty typical, but I still find it interesting.

Below are some holiday spoons for friends and family with a 6" rule. All Paper Birch from the same tree. I used a pattern for the two smaller spoons, based on Barn the spoon's suggestions, made from a piece of flexible plastic. First I axed and then smoothed with my knife a crank into a half stick, traced the pattern, axed to the pattern, and then carved it all out from there. The final step in roughing these is to hollow the bowl. It's very quick work with the green Birch, but it's a bit soft and flexible for these small eating spoons, much better for the larger utensils that can be left thicker.
Tips for Spooners-Barn the Spoon

Below is some quarter sawn Maple from a stump in the backyard. These are about 5-6" wide, and about 4-6/4 thick. Plenty hefty! I very approximately flattened and thicknessed these boards with my new Lee Valley scrub, and couldn't resist finishing one out to see what the grain would look like.

The radial flecks are a little more subtle than something like Oak, but I think it's very pleasant to look at.

It's amazing how stable quartersawn lumber is! I know that's the whole idea, but it's still really cool to me. I took these straight out of the back yard and moved them down to the basement mere feet from the furnace for over a week, and haven't seen a single check or any suggestion of twist or cupping. I did paint the ends as a precaution, but I've also been storing them upright. I found a webpage somewhere (one of the few I didn't bookmark...yarg!) that suggested storing lumber on end instead of horizontally prevented almost all checking. I haven't done enough experimenting to verify that, but it sure hasn't hurt!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Planes and Ice

 My Stanley Bailey #5 that I mentioned in a previous post got a new knob the other night. I cut a chunk of Maple, drilled it and countersunk it, then shaved it down with my knife to a good grip. It's a large knob, but my have large hands so it's fitting to have a large knob. (har har). I couldn't find a screw or threaded rod at the hardware store that matched the plane, so I used the old bent bolt, which is working fine. I gave it a heavy coat of Formby's Danish Oil Finish, and it's good to go.

The water in the backyard has been making interesting ice forms the last couple weeks.

Here's a quick video showing my new Lee Valley scrub plane that I just got a couple days ago. I have it set to take 1mm shavings off of this semi-green Maple board, and it really chews boards down fast. It's definitely a workout to use, and my shoulders aren't quite used to it yet, but it's far faster and easier than using my #5. The fit and finish on this plane is very good. The tote came a little loose, but I gave the screws half a turn each and everything is tight. It took 60 seconds to get the iron razor sharp, and I was planing within minutes of opening the box.

I also got a Veritas Wonder Dog, which I like, but it doesn't fit in my 3/4" dog holes. I'm going to have to get a 13/16" bit to slightly enlarge the holes so the dog will go in easily. It's possible that the wood of my bench top has shrunk slightly since I brought it down to the basement, but the dog was a tight fit even in a dog hole I bored just a few days ago.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Miniature Scrub Plane

The iron made from a dull old file.

Broke my coping saw while ripping the Maple plane body :(

Friday, December 03, 2010

Marking Gauge

This marking gauge came out of my backyard. I started with a small Maple log, split it in half, hewed it to a rough board with my axe, then set it aside for a month. I brought it downstairs, planed it square and smoothed it out. I wanted a project to use my new mortise chisels on, so I decided to make this marking gauge based on the one that I saw on the page "Woodworking In Vietnam". Turns out this is also a classical French design, which I learned on some other woodworking page somewhere out there.

I wasn't sure whether I wanted a pin or a knife, so I made both out of a couple of small finish nails. I tried them out on a piece of scrap and decided I prefer the knife.

The jaws on my bit brace can't close tight enough to grab the tiny drill bit I needed to drill the pilot hole for the knife, so I tried using some pine jaws in the brace. Not enough friction, so I dug up the pin vise, which worked like a charm.

The finished gauge works well enough for me. The beam isn't perfectly square to the fence, but it does the job. I'm putting on a few coats of Formby's "Tung Oil Finish" to finish it up, and I'll call it done.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Few New Things

Last week I finished a new work bench, made from pressure treated 6x6s. I had them laying around, so I used them. This bench is super massive. The top felt it weighed 80-100 pounds alone.

I don't have any vises, but I installed a plane stop and I bought a couple clamps that can traverse the width of the top with room to spare. This allows me to hold wood adequately in the three major planes of orientation. In the photo I have a piece of scrap pine clamped for edge planing while I was tuning my planes.

The difficulty I'm having is clamping a piece flat to the top of the bench, such as when I want to chisel a mortise into the face of a piece. The trouble is that my clamps are too long to orient the excess bar below the bench, and orienting the excess bar above the bench puts them right in the way of my mallet. I drilled dog holes that will accept traditional holdfasts, but haven't decided whether I actually want to shell out for a pair or deal with what I have.

After I finished assembling my bench in my basement room, I started getting my planes in shape. I have had these for quite some time, but without an effective way to hold my work, they were almost useless (except for trimming a door once). With the bench, though, they become very useful. I got a piece of glass, some spray adhesive, and a bunch of cheap sandpaper in 100 and 220. I also picked up some 400, 600, and 1200 wet/dry. I polished the soles, lapped the blades, sharpened them up.

The knob on my Bailey #5 is broken, and the screw is bent, so I need to make a replacement and try to find a suitable screw. I haven't got around to it yet, but I have been using it without any problem. I put a slight camber on the blade, and I have it set heavy to try to take the place of a scrub plane. Using it is a bit of a workout, but it does the job. I have one of my block planes set as a heavy smoother, and the other block plane set as a fine smoother. I polished rubbed some paste wax onto all the polished metal to try to reduce rusting caused by my grimy mitts.

With these three planes I can take a rough hewn board down to a glassy smooth, square board.

Leevalley is running a great deal on some mortise chisels. Only through the 15th, so if you want some, get on it quick. I lightly flattened the backs, polished up the bevels, and they cut great.

I felt a hankering for a couple of longer knives, so I ordered a Mora #2 and a Lauri 4.8" blade from Ben's Backwoods. I love the Mora #1 blade shape and length, but the handle is too small to be comfortable for heavy cutting. The #2 has a nice big handle.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Feather Sticks and Spoons

Feather sticks and spoons are both great projects for practicing knife skills and building wrist and grip strength. Feather sticks in particular are great for practicing controlled cutting. A good feather stick requires a strong grip on the knife, one that allows for cutting long strips of wood at a consistent depth. For a good article discussing feather sticks, check out this one by Jim Dillard over at Ben's Backwoods. I disagree with is assertion that a highly polished edge is essential. I make what I consider to be perfectly adequate feather sticks with an edge straight off of a carborundum pocket stone. I honestly can't tell much, if any, performance difference in wood carving between that and my more highly polished and stropped edges.

Spoons are good for practicing a wide range of cuts, and getting even more comfortable with your knife. Starting with large, powerful cuts for initial shaping, then ending with fine, controlled cuts.

(This is two feather sticks)

Mmmm! Delicious!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chopping Block

I made this chopping block a little while ago. This is a good way to get a stable chopping block if you don't have any large rounds of wood. This block is something like a block I once saw, but in reverse. In the version that I saw, the fork was a large tree crotch, and there was a single smaller limb used to complete the tripod.

In this version, I used a Maple log about 6-8" diameter, as well as a forked limb about 1" diameter, all longer than I wanted them to finish. I bored a 1" hole in the larger log at an eye-balled angle, chopped down the forked limb to fit the mortise, and stuck it together. Using a tape measure (any old stick with some notches in it would work), I measured a good height for a chopping block, then transferred it to the block and sawed off the excess. I stood it up, sawed the top off approximately level, and it was done.

Because it's a tripod, it will be stable on almost any surface. It's also small and light enough (and can be taken apart) to travel in a car. It is very stable and stiff, though, if you orient your heavy blows so that the force will travel down the large leg.

I'm not sure, but I think I probably found the original inspiration over on the bodger's forum.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Finished Spoons

These are a couple of spoons I finished recently. I feel like I'm beginning to really grasp combining the function of the spoon with an elegant shape. There are a couple of things I can see I will probably cringe at down the road, but I'm happy with these.

These are both made from Maple limbs. The one on the bottom was a curved limb, hence the gradual curve in the whole spoon. The one on top was a straight limb that I formed with the axe to the right angle. I have been eating with the bottom spoon for the last couple of weeks, and I'm very pleased with the mouth-feel and ergonomics.

These are finished with a knife, the inside of the bowls with a Mora small circumference hook knife. I would like to get a shallow gouge to finish out the inside of the bowls, to leave fewer ridges.

The bottom spoon has a few coats of Mineral Oil, but I don't know how well it actually took. I might try a trick I read of in which the spoon is seeped in boiling milk for a few hours. The idea is that the milk proteins invade the surface of the spoon and form a water resistant barrier.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Axe Handle Patterns

I made up a few patterns from some of my favorite axe handles today. I used 1/8" luan plywood. I traced the handles onto the plywood, chopped them into chunks with the saw, then I took them down to the line with the coping saw. I trimmed them all the way down and finished them up with the knife.

Then I took a chunk of the hickory log I had and trimmed it roughly to a plank. Then I used the pattern off my big Snow and Nealley and traced a monster handle onto it. I can't wait to hang a head on this handle, but I have to wait a couple months for it to dry out.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Today I didn't have any work, which is a good thing because I've been feeling terrible and running a low grade fever most of the day, on top of getting very little useful sleep because I was focusing on avoiding throwing up.

So I started collecting parts for a bike trailer I'm going to build, based on the plans here:

So far I have the metal sheet for the brackets mostly cut, still need to drill holes, make a couple more cuts, and bend them to shape.
Two cracked bicycle wheels that I got for free at the bike shop.

I'm not decided yet on what I'm going to use for the frame, but probably maple sticks from the yard.

I also pulled myself together today and carved some spoons. I started out with the small Maple log you see here:

I split it out into four useful blanks, then cut two of them in half for eating spoons. The other two were meant for serving spoons. One of the blanks had a catastrophic crack in it that I didn't see until I was mostly done rough shaping it with the axe, so that went into the fire pile. The first step in shaping is done with the axe, and a saw to trim off the edges of the blank close to my pencil marks (which are drawn freehanded in whatever shape appeals to me).

After roughing with the axe, I carve out the bowls with my hook knife.

After that, I attack them with the regular knife. This is the stage in which everything is refined and the block of wood actually starts to resemble a proper utensil. I leave everything a bit thick at this point, so that once the wood dries out I can shave it down to finished dimensions.

Here are the tools I used, except the saw which was used for four cuts. Gransfors Bruks Swedish Carving Axe, Mora 510 (with a bit of a regrind to saber convex bevel), and a Mora small radius hook knife. This is about $210 worth of tools, but $180 of that is in the axe. For a much more reasonable tool kit, you can replace the axe with almost any axe. Below you can see two $15-20 axe heads rehandled with the same pattern handle as the carving axe (Cold Steel Norse Hawk, and a modern Collins hatchet). For even less, you can get great old hatchets for $5 and grind a fresh edge on them, slap a new handle on, and you are good to go. That would bring a basic spoon carving kit to about $50 or less, brand new!

The fin on the back is something new for me that I've been trying to figure out for a while (I'm embarrassed to say, now that I've figured it out). Deceptively simple to apply, and it adds quite a lot of strength to the spoon in the weakest part. You might also notice the grain of the spoons. I was careful to align the rings in the spoons so that the spoons would be strongest in the direction that force is applied, similar to aligning the grain of an axe handle.

The curve of the spoon, with the bowl canted in relation to the handle, makes the spoon tremendously easier to eat out of compared to a straight spoon.

Total time so far on these spoons is a bit under 4 hours, which includes 10-15 minutes sharpening my axe. That works out to 45-50 minutes per spoon so far. I'll probably spend another 20-60 minutes on each spoon to finish them out, so if I round up, each spoon will take about 2 hours of work by the end.